POV: The brand new (insert fighting game here) just released and you copped that bad boy day 1! You heard they got rollback netcode, all your favorite fighters are there, the training mode and tutorials are the bees knees, etc. “Training mode?” you say! “Tutorials? I don’t need no stinking tutorials! I’ve been playing (insert fighting game here) for years and always dominate my friends.” So you jump right in, go online, get matched with another player and start fighting. Your opponent quickly lands a hit and you’re thinking “lucky hit, they’ll never be able to handle my strategies…” It’s only after pulling out all the stops and utilizing every strategy you’ve developed in your years of playing fighting games that you realize something is amiss. This mf’er has blocked every attack and hit you afterwards while you were unable to do anything about it. “They’re cheating! They must be, they couldn’t know something that I don’t!” They do. What do they know that you don’t? Frame Data.
What Are Frames?
Frames are how quickly the images from a video game appear on your screen. While the rate at which these frames flash in front of you can vary depending on the game, most if not all modern games run at at least 60 frames per second, FPS for short. Meaning that 1 frame is equal to 1/60 of a second.
Make a fist, throw a punch and observe the time it takes for you to extend your fist completely outwards. Even in real life it’s impossible to attack without taking a moment to generate the force behind the attack and that concept also applies to fighting games. When you press a button in your fighter of choice the game’s code commands your character to perform the corresponding move and, whether that move is a punch, a kick, or throwing a projectile that also happens to be an afro, go through a predetermined amount of time to perform said move, called “Start-up Frames”. For example, Ryu’s standing jab in Street Fighter III starts up in just 2 frames, or 1/30 of a second, making it a very quick attack and an excellent tool to hold your opponent at bay.
While you were throwing your punch, if someone had caught your hand just as you began extending your arm your attack wouldn’t have much momentum behind it and therefore, wouldn’t inflict any damage to your opponent. Likewise, if you were able to finish the punch motion, and then your opponent walked into your outstretched arm, it’s highly unlikely they would suffer any impact from your motionless limb. No, only the sweet spot while your body is moving from Point A, the retracted arm position, to Point B, the extended arm position, would your strike have force and be dangerous to your foe. In fighting games this window of opportunity is referred to as “Active Frames”. Essentially, active frames are when your move can actually hit your opponent. The first active frame of a move typically overlaps with the last start-up frame of the move, which you can see in the image of Ryu above. Whether an attack hits your opponent or is blocked during its active frames your opponent will suffer either hit stun or block stun, which will be covered in part 2 of this post.
The final act of any attack in a fighting game is known as the “Recovery Frames”. In reality it would be the time in between your arm being fully extended and drawn back into your body when throwing a punch. As you can’t throw a punch with the same arm immediately without recoiling your limb. In digital reality, it’s the amount of frames in between the last active frame of your move and the first frame that your on-screen sprite is able to perform any other action. This includes performing another attack, jumping or even just walking forward and backward. Moves with low recovery frames are desirable, although a move having a lot of recovery frames doesn’t necessarily mean it is less powerful. To make up for a higher number of recovery frames a move may have a longer reach or deal a larger amount of damage. Likewise, a move with low recovery frames may suffer from limited range or low damage. In the follow-up to this post I will discuss the practical applications having a knowledge of start-up, active and recovery frames can bring to you as a player.